The Deadly War on Brazilian Funk Music

In law enforcement and politics, an organized effort to silence a subculture continues

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
LEVEL
Published in
5 min readFeb 5, 2020

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A Baile Funk party at the Rocinha shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 25, 2012. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

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Rubber bullets fly, tear gas sprays — and just like that, a popular funk music street party in São Paulo becomes deadly.

It was the wee hours of December 1, 2019, when militarized police officers ambushed the well-known bash Baile da Dz7 in pursuit of two men who had opened fire on the officers then run into the party. According to a police report, officers used “chemical ammunition” to disperse the crowd, kettling partiers into narrow alleys of the city’s Paraisópolis community. Trapped on Street 17 (for which the party is named), some members of the 5,000-person crowd were trampled. Nine teenagers were killed. The youngest, Gustavo Cruz Xavier, was 14 years old.

While on its surface the tragic incident may seem like a police chase gone wrong, it was yet another episode in a decades-old systemic war on funk carioca, a rhythm birthed by Black youth living in Brazilian favelas. The sound, which gives a voice to the country’s downtrodden citizens, has seen worldwide success thanks to superstars like Anitta and cosigners like Diplo — yet in the poor communities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo where it was born, it continues to be criminalized.

According to MC Leonardo, a prominent funkeiro (funk DJ), police repression and pressure from authorities have reduced the number of funk parties, citing criminal ties and public disturbance. Baile funk has adapted by becoming an art of stealth. “Today we can never be sure the bailes will happen until minutes before,” says Leonardo, who is one half of the sibling funk duo MC Júnior e MC Leonardo. “We came out of a scenario of almost 800 bailes in 1995 to a little over 50 rolling sporadically. And sporadic bailes can’t sustain a market.”

Carlos Palombini, professor of musicology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), has been studying funk for decades, and has a simple explanation for why the style is so persecuted: “The short answer is racism.”

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Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
LEVEL
Writer for

Journalist, PhD in Human Rights (University of Deusto). MA in Communication Sciences, BA in International Relations. www.tsavkko.com.br